Where the world comes to study the Bible

Do you think Israel’s peace treaty is the beginning of the end times?

As for Israel’s peace treaty: yes, this COULD be a part of an eschatological fulfillment. But whether it certainly is is a different matter. The Lord may well wait another millennium before his return. There is nothing in Scripture which prohibits such a conclusion. We need to be very cautious, therefore, about making identifications before the prophecy is actually fulfilled. The general pattern of biblical revelation is that one just doesn’t know when Scripture is fulfilled until it is. Predictions ahead of time are almost always wrong. Even the disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ statement about his own resurrection until after he was raised from the dead! (They debated what he meant by ‘resurrection from the dead.’) As we read in the gospels, we discover time and time again (especially in John) that once the fulfillment of a prophecy took place, then people believed. But they simply couldn’t predict either the timing of such or the referential meaning that the prophecy was pointing to.

Judging by human interpreters’ track records in the past of predicting when and how certain prophecies would be fulfilled (e.g., how the OT Messianic prophecies would be fulfilled in Christ—even to the point of whether they would be fulfilled in his first coming or second), I think we need a heavy dose of humility when it comes to eschatological convictions.

What, then, is the value of prophecy? The value, as I see it, is that most of the time once a prophecy comes true, those who know the scriptures say, ‘Ah hah! So that’s how it’s to be played out!’ Their faith is strengthened at the time of the fulfillment, not at the time of the prediction. Yet prophetic conferences are a 20th century phenomenon that sometimes play a different tune. John 2:22, for example, is fairly paradigmatic in terms of the faith-building value of prophecy: “Then when [Jesus] was raised from the dead, his disciples believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t study prophecy, nor that we should neglect world events. Daniel 9 is eloquent testimony to the fact that both are important features of solid biblical interpretation (along with prayer!). But it does mean that—prior to actual fulfillment—we have the right to say, “This MAY be that;” we usually can’t say, “This IS that.”

Ironically, in the eschatological tradition of dispensationalism, there is usually a lack of humility, coupled with a high degree of certain referential identifications that takes place. But the batting average is so poor that some dispensational writers actually fare little better than cultists. And the net effect is to gather something of a cult following of those who simply are titilated by all the juicy prophetic insights.

Since the beginning of this century, crowds continue to swell at prophetic conferences (conferences which are almost never about how we should interpret Scripture, but are almost always about lining up biblical texts with newspaper headlines). All of this strikes me as rather imbalanced and, to be frank, tragic. If we were to have a conference on the person and work of Christ, the interest level and attendance would almost surely be significantly lower than that for a conference on prophecy.

Related Topics: Dispensational / Covenantal Theology, Eschatology (Things to Come)